Is it illegal to grow your own food? An attorney explains what you need to know before planting

From greenhouses to water consumption – these are the legalities behind growing your own

tarling greenhouse shed in flower garden
(Image credit: Future/Mark Bolton)

It is easy to see the appeal behind growing your own food but is it illegal? Homegrown produce undeniably tastes better than veg from the store – but the process does come with legalities – depending on your location. 

So, before experimenting with backyard farming or even vegetable garden ideas, you may need to double-check the rules around growing vegetables and other edibles in your state – or even your city. Here, seasoned attorneys share what you need to know about seeding.   

Large green vegetable garden

(Image credit: Future / Mathia Coco)

'The most important place to start is with the recognition that by and large, one will find different laws depending upon which State (and local municipality) one lives in,' explains S.Z. Cohn, Esq, a partner of Cohn Legal in New York. 

'Indeed, while the sale of food (at least, in a meaningful amount) is governed on the Federal level by the FDA, the mere growing of food and certainly for one's consumption is far more localized,' he explains. Therefore, it's vital to check your local state guidelines before venturing into any large or small vegetable garden ideas

According to Abraham, laws surrounding produce cultivation are typically concerned with the type of vegetable you are growing and the location (for example, your front or backyard). They also cover the amount of produce and (in more unusual cases) the extent to which it may interfere with city property. 

'Some of the legal considerations are functional and health-related while others are more cosmetic in nature (for example, does this pumpkin patch take away from the look and feel of the neighborhood),' 

vegetable garden ideas leigh clapp

(Image credit: Future/Leigh Clapp)

Do you need permission to grow vegetables?

'As a rule, you don't need any permission to grow vegetables in your garden. However, there may be some exceptions depending on where you live,' emphasizes International Law Attorney Dmitriy Kondratiev. For example, Dmitry explains that in some cities, you may need to get permission from your local council before you can start growing food. This is worth noting if you're working with vegetable garden container ideas in an urban setting. 

'If you're not sure whether or not you need permission, it's always best to check with your local authority,' the attorney adds.

A greenhouse with basil and pumpkins growing inside

(Image credit: Mark Bolton/Future PLC)

What are the rules around greenhouses?

A greenhouse may seem like a great solution if you're looking for a way to raise young vegetables and sow seeds at an early point of the year. However, Dmitry warns that some greenhouse ideas come with extra precautions. He warns that greenhouses can be counted as an unpermitted temporary structure in some states, so it is better to remind yourself of local rules before investing in the structure.  

What about water consumption? 

Water consumption can be another problem for gardeners, depending (once again) on where you live. 'Water restrictions are in place in certain areas owing to high population density and a scarcity of water resources,' Dmitry explains. 'These are particularly widespread in states with more desert regions, such as Nevada, southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico.' 

potatoes and other veg in a box

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How much food can you grow in your backyard? 

'As long as you grow the fruits and vegetables for personal use, there is no limit to how much food you can grow in your backyard,' Dmitry explains. However, there is a quirk to watch out for. According to the expert, in some states, you are not allowed to sell the produced food without a farmer's permit, so it may be worth enjoying your produce in your home exclusively.

'So, as long as you do not grow the vegetables at an industrial scale and the amount of grown food is adequate for your family size, you should be fine,' Dmitry says. 

Whether you're playing with vegetable garden trellis ideas or you're looking into a new greenhouse, it is always worth checking regulations to ensure you continue with ease – wherever you are. 

Anna K. Cottrell is now a freelance writer, having previously been a Content Editor for Future's homes titles. She writes about interior design, property, and gardening. On H&G, she specialized in writing about property – buying, selling, renting – sustainability and eco issues.

With contributions from